Editor's note: Mitch Horowitz is editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin and editor of Penguin’s new reissue of The Jefferson Bible.
By Mitch Horowitz, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Imagine the following scenario: A U.S. president is discovered to be spending his spare time taking a razor to the New Testament, cutting up and re-pasting those passages of the Gospels that he considered authentic and morally true and discarding all the rest.
Gone are the virgin birth, divine healings, exorcisms and the resurrection of the dead, all of which the chief executive dismissed as “superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications.”
Such an episode occurred, although the revised version of Scripture remained unseen for nearly seven decades after its abridger’s death. Thomas Jefferson intended it that way.
During most of his two terms in the White House, from 1801 to 1809, and for more than a decade afterward, Jefferson – the third U.S. president and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence – committed himself to a radical reinterpretation of the Gospels.
With a razor and glue brush at this side, Jefferson lined up English, French, Greek and Latin editions of Scripture and proceeded to cut up and reassemble the four Gospels into an exquisitely well-crafted, multilingual chronology of Christ’s life.
Jefferson lined up different editions of Scripture.
In Jefferson’s view, this revision represented a faithful record of Christ’s moral code, minus the miracles that the Enlightenment-era founder dismissed as historical mythmaking.
The book eventually became known as The Jefferson Bible and is now being rediscovered in new editions, including one published this month by Tarcher/Penguin, and as the focus of a Smithsonian exhibit.
Ask most people today if they have heard of Jefferson’s Bible and you will receive blank stares. Indeed, for much of American history, The Jefferson Bible was entirely unknown. Jefferson intended it as a work of private reflection, not a public statement.
As contemporary readers discover the work, it is tempting to wonder how American history might look different had Jefferson’s radical document come to light closer to its completion.
Jefferson was still working on his Bible during his presidency, so its theoretical publication wouldn’t have compromised his electability. But if the book had been made public after its final completion in 1820, when Jefferson had only six more years to live, it likely would have become one of the most controversial and influential religious works of early American history.
A curator handles a "source" Bible from which Jefferson cut out passages.
That was a scenario Jefferson took pains to avoid. After being called an “infidel” during his 1800 presidential race, Jefferson knew the calumny he could bring on himself if word spread of his “little book.” Although he had his work professionally bound, he mentioned it only to a select group of friends. Its discovery after his death came as a surprise to his family.
Jefferson’s wish for confidentiality held sway until 1895 when the Smithsonian in Washington made public his original pages, purchased from a great-granddaughter. In 1904, Congress issued a photolithograph edition and presented it for decades as a gift to new legislators, a gesture that would likely cause uproar in today’s climate of political piety.
Because of the book’s long dormancy following Jefferson’s death, and its limited availability for generations after – arguably the first truly accessible edition didn’t appear until 1940 – The Jefferson Bible has remained a curio of American history.
So how would the earlier publication of The Jefferson Bible have changed American history? It's impossible to know for sure, but the 1820s inaugurated a period of tremendous spiritual experiment in America: It was the age of Mormonism, Unitarian Universalism and Shakerism, among other new faiths.
There’s little doubt that many Americans, who were already fiercely independent in matters of religion, would have seen The Jefferson Bible as the manifesto of a reformist movement – call it “Jeffersonian Christianity” – focused not on repentance and salvation but on earthly ethics. Such a movement could have swept America, and also have spread to Europe, where Jefferson was esteemed.
A broad awareness of Jefferson’s work would have surely engendered a more complex view of the religious identity of Jefferson and other founders. Indeed, one of Jefferson’s most trusted correspondents while he was producing his Bible was his White House predecessor, John Adams, who in turn confided to Jefferson his distrust of all religious orthodoxy. These men were impossible to pin pat religious labels on.
Because Jefferson published relatively little during his lifetime, the appearance of The Jefferson Bible would have created a different, and more confounding, public image of the statesman as someone struggling deeply with his own religious beliefs. The Jefferson that appears behind his reconstruction of Scripture is someone who brushed aside notions of miraculous intervention and canonical faith.
As The Jefferson Bible conveys, however, Jefferson considered Jesus’ moral philosophy the most finely developed in history, surpassing the ethics of both the ancient Greeks and the Hebrews. He insisted that Christ’s authentic doctrine was marked by a stark, ascetic tone that clashed with the supernatural powers attributed to him.
“In extracting the pure principles which he taught,” Jefferson wrote in 1813, “we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms. ... There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”
Jefferson’s minimalist approach to the Gospels reveals an attitude that he disclosed only privately, just months before his death: “I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know."
In that sense, Jefferson the politician wouldn’t have stood a chance in the current presidential race, where faith and piety are on constant display. The political process might be more open today to candidates of varying degrees and types of belief if The Jefferson Bible were more central to the nation’s history.
The Jefferson Bible opens a window on Jefferson’s struggle to find a faith with which he could finally come to terms. It was this kind of intimate, inner search – not the outward pronouncement and establishment of religious doctrine – that the man who helped shape modern religious liberty sought to protect in America.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mitch Horowitz.
It is not clear what the TJ Holy Bible attributed Jesus pbuh as to being ;
2) Son of God?
3) Messenger of God.?
just a regular human with strong morals
According to Jefferson (and anyone with a fully functional brain) jesus was a man.
Well not just like any ordinary man...
That is from the news of the unseen which We reveal to you, [O Muhammad]. And you were not with them when they cast their pens as to which of them should be responsible for Mary. Nor were you with them when they disputed. (3:44)
[And mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ]. (3:45)
He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous." (3:46)
She said, "My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?" [The angel] said, "Such is Allah ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, 'Be,' and it is. (3:47)
And He will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel (3:48)
And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], 'Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah . And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead – by permission of Allah . And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers. (3:49)
And [I have come] confirming what was before me of the Torah and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. And I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear Allah and obey me. (3:50)
Indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is the straight path." (3:51)
Why believe one book over another?
Read all and make your one book..! Take this comment which I wrote for some one else at next page;
We were given brains to think with and accept what we want to accept in our lifes as a path of living... And I do respect TJ for expressing clearly what his brain and heart had accepted as a path...!!
Reading was always about stimulating the mind into thinking and making choices...
And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned. (17:36)
Christianity, the basics: The belief that some cosmic Jewish Zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.
Cand stii foarte crpeis, asta deja inseamna determinare, claritate, hotarare.Nu mai incape loc de ar trebui, as vrea Astea se transforma in trebuie si vreau.Cel cu pistolul in ceafa, n-as spune ca debordeaza de hotarare si stapanire de sine; ceilati doi fac si ei ce pot, ca n-or fi in stare sa convinga altfel :)
Imagine there's no heaven, and no religion too.....
Evolution is probably a fact but how does that prove there is no God or that the Bible is wrong about the creation of Adam and Eve. Can it be that some men are descended from monkeys and others from Adam. Some still behave like monkeys and some behave more civilized. The story of Cane and Able indicates there were others outside the garden of Eden. They could not have been children of Adam. The story does not spell it out for us it is designed to make us think about it. When God created man he said "let us make man in our image". No one said what the hell is man because they must have known what a man was or what a man was like. Every aspect of evolution had to have its foundation in "the creation of the heavens and earth and all that is in them" Before there was the heavens and earth there had to be an intelligence with an imagination and desire similar to man and beast (reproduction of its kind) and the ability to become physical (mass) such as the God particle.
Since "God is Spirit" ( An intelligence without shape or form) God is not physical. The image of God in man cannot be a physical image it has to be a spirit image. The men with that spirit are probably the descendants of Adam and those without it the descendants of monkeys ( by there own admission and with pride). Science is on the verge of proving the existence of God. Science is not the enemy of God. "The mind of man is enmity toward God". The mind of man draws the wrong conclusions from the facts they discover.
Unfortunately, Dan, you are totally ignorant of evolution. It is a fact. Period. Furthermore, it does not state that man came from monkeys. You highlight a major problem with religion. It keeps it's followers intentionally ignorant.
Finally a decent article on the "belief" blog...
. . .and people keep saying Obama is waging a war on religion . . . HA!
Were they to rise from the dead and offer him their wisdom right now, there would be no room for either an Adams or a Jefferson in Rick Santorum administration. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.
I like weenie
jefferson's bible is not a secret. i have known about it for years because it is referenced in many american history books, articles, etc.
Well, pin a rose on your nose.
Thank you! One story I read said he handed some out to people. This is not a secret at all!
It isn't really a secret at all. A copy is given out to each member of congress.
The author wrote this to get attention to the reissue and sell some books.
words of true wisdom.
Thomas Jefferson in a private letter to Benjamin Rush: "To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others..."
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Source: Wikipedia page on Thomas Jefferson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Jefferson#Views_about_slaves_and_blacks
"Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined, and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites."
- Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on Virginia”, 1782
Dude...I totally agree. Many atrocities have been done by man in the name of God. However, Jesus was one who, historically, told religious leaders that they were blowing it. Jesus didn't come to start a religion. He said (basically), come to me and I will give you rest, be real before God, recognize your own failures, and of course, love your neighbor as yourself.
Seems to me that he had it right...and we have since gotten it very wrong.
Christians have been editing the Bible or just ignoring parts outright since the inception of Christianity. The only difference is that Jefferson did it entirely of his own accord. Christians won't admit that they are just ignoring parts of the Bible. Instead, they make up unconvincing reasons why they don't have to follow certain parts or why passages mean something other than what they say. Christianity lost its credibility a LONG time ago.
Despite the fact that I'm not keen on the morality of Jesus and I think that deism was basically an immature form of atheism, I think Jefferson was our greatest president. He believed whole heartedly that America was NOT a Christian nation and that church and state must be separate. Nowadays, presidential candidates have to loudly proclaim their Christianity in order to be electable. I think Jefferson would have been nauseated by such a thing.
Jefferson also mentored James Madison, who wrote the first amendment and added the part about Separation of Church and State. There is no doubt as to the meaning of that clause, despite what some Christians think.
you cant go by what christians believe... they have faith so sadly they will believe anything crazy idea without a speck of evidence because they have "faith".
were your parents athiest too? Grandparents?
Did a Christian lie to you or hurt you?
Did you get force to attend church?
Were you a rebelious child?
Has someone representing Christ made a mistake?
What makes you an authority on the bible and Christ or even Christianity?
American wants to know. Help us understand your background and expertise.
We can judge then your validity and comments.
As for candidates doing what they think or have been told to be electable, check current adminstration. Lies and misrepresenting ones past – makes some more electable than others. Watch what Mr. O says this year... He wants your vote. He claimed to be a Christian. Then a muslim. This year, to get your vote, he will be an athiest. Which one is the turth?
Can You Believe? More Hope and Change is coming.
Jefferson will roll over when we get 4 more years of the crap we have now.
Thank you, but no thank you!
"He claimed to be a Christian. Then a muslim."
You are totally CLUELESS. Give the EXACT quote where he SUPPOSEDLY said he was a Muslim. It's only IGNORANT Republicans that claim he is a Muslim, typical of the lack of intelligence of the "birthers" and "deathers".
Fact – he attended a muslim school as a child, and his father and grand parents were muslim. They raised him to believe in the Koran. And he bows to Arab leaders, as a good muslim does. More proof?
Mr. Obama went to a Muslim school for about a year or so. He also went to a Catholic school for a year (or part of a year).
He met his biological father ONCE, briefly, when he was 12, and never met the grandparents on that side.
His mother's parents, who did much of his raising were Christians.
So you proved you are CLUELESS. ZERO proof that Obama ever "claimed to be a Christian. Then a muslim."
Just like the birthers and deathers, Republicans have to MAKE THINGS UP since they often don't care about TRUTH.
'Truth hurts' there is no truth to any of your statements. First, people lack a belief in god due to a complete lack of evidence of invisible creatures that live in the sky. 'God' never did anything to me to make me not believe in him (whatever the heck that even means). Also, Obama is not a Muslim. Her never was. he went to a school in Indonesia that had muslims in it, and some muslim classes. There were also chrsitians there too. You are ignorant.
oh? and truth hurts? Obama's parents were actually atheists. Non-believers. Read 'dreams of my father' he clears it up rather easily. Neither his mother, nor father, gave a darn about mohammed.
this nation was founded on the right of freedom of worship so if you dont like it go to some othernation that has some idol you can worship.
You're witnessing freedom of worship. Just because someone else's worship is mocking another person's form of worship doesn't mean it's not worship.
mary, you are a nitwit.
Refreshing and so right on.....go Jefferson.
i think he was a freemason as are a lot of the guys on my moms side of the family. free thinkers
jefferson was a Deist.
The following US Presidents were all Master Masons, with the exception of Lyndon Johnson who did not complete the Three Degrees of Masonary: George Washington, Jaimes Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Jaems Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Rosevelt, William Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin D. Rosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jerald Ford.
Don't believe a word, if you've been told or are under the assumption masons are free thinkers.
The Mafia comes to mind for many...
The original copies of bible his extremely hard to find. It talks about how to live longer. Humans can survive up to 120 years old. But the original bible and word of Messiah. Human can extend the longer about 400-500 years old. If we had that bible. The bible could predict the population controls without worry about dying faster.
King James bible is really... really fast bible. You read it. That's it.
Harry Potter Book & Lord of the Rings = King James Bible. It is the book of Marketing.
It's hardly a secret that Jefferson was anti-organized religion, and was more in favor of a customized, personal spirituality.
Interesting concept, Just cut out what you disagree with, Huuuuummmmmm I have no president, no govt., no police.. that works.
Maybe you should pick up a copy and have someone read it to you.
Today, Jefferson would be an atheist.
no just a mason...
No, he would be agnostic.
He was a Deist. It's pointless to speculate on what he might have believed today.
Absolutely. Imagine what an atheist nation would be like? A nation where people were free to live their lives however they wanted so long as they didn't infringe on the rights of others to do the same. A place where reason and facts determined the law of the land and religion and faith were completely absent from politics. I say this as a currently serving infantryman in the US Army: That is a country I would defend to the death. I fear we are descending dangerously close to theocracy, and, should that happen, the United States I swore to protect will be dead.
Considering the "my way or highway" kind of truth all the modern day Christians are subscribing to, I would say he would be branded "atheist" at best or "enemy of the church" at worst!
Today jefferson would be a "Deist"-same as always.
Agnosticism is no longer any more tenable a position than religion. Before there was evidence of the false nature of religion agnosticism would have been the most reasonable choice, but now, in the face of that very evidence, agnosticism cannot be considered a reasonable stance.
Wow David. You are what they label an Evangelical Atheist.
You do realize that Evangelical Atheists are no better than Evangelical Christians, and they are the reason why atheists are so hated in America?
"Agnosticism is no longer any more tenable a position than religion."
Nope. Neither atheists nor believers can prove nor disprove the existence of God. They could both be wrong. Agnostics are the only ones to admit they don't know for sure.
Read "The God Delusion" for a more informed and eloquent reply than I could fit here.
Atheists are hated in America due to misunderstanding and failure to communicate. For example, I do not hate religion, nor do I wish to see it destroyed. It cannot be used to infringe on the rights of others, however, and there are moral codes (such as humanism) that would be splendid replacements for religious morality in legislating our nation's future. I believe in nothing beyond what our nation was founded on: separation of church and state. True separation, not merely on paper. Also, children are taught early on to regard atheists as one regards a demon. I know this as someone brought up christian and educated by catholics.
Also, I feel it worth noting the very real difference between Evangelical Christians (EC) and Evangelical Atheists (EA): ECs seek to conform everyone to their view, while EAs seek to free people to make up their own damned minds. There is the additional fact that one perspective is founded in faith (which is, inherently, divorced from reason, just ask Martin Luther) and the other in reason, evidence, and fact.
An agnostic does doubt the existence of god, and agnostic believes that whether or not this is a god is ultimately unknowable.
David – I've read the God Delusion. If you take everything in that book at face value you basically belong to the Church of Dawkins and aren't an atheist at all.
@Blinky42: I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter. What specifically do you feel I've stated is untrue, why, and what is your rebuttal? I do happen to agree with a lot of what Dawkins says, but not all, and I'm always interested in hearing another perspective.
Just goes to show how you cant trust what anyone tells you.. not even a president. You have your own mind and opinion. Believe that not matter what you think. Dont let the masses dictate your thoughts.
words of wisdom...
"Just goes to show how you cant trust what anyone tells you.. not even a president." or a priest.
We just had a president who "talks to God all the time" and he may have been the worst president ever.
Mr. O. claimed to be a Christain. Says "God Bless America" and prays to GOD for wisdom.
Would you like to reconsider who is the worse president now?
How's that "HOPE and CHANGE" working out for you?
Hope and change is working out. The stock market is WAY UP after Bush left it plummeting. We are adding jobs each month rather than losing them like Bush left. We have pullled troops out from the Iraq War that Bush started for false reasons. And we have eliminated the leader of the 9/11 attacks after Bush said he wasn't concerned about bin Laden.
Looking MUCH better.
So, if I take what you say is fact:
A president that believes in GOD, prays, and claims to be Christian – and is the current administration, has made the economy better and we are better off than before – by the way was also a Christian. Both Prayed for wisdom. Gave and Gives thanks to GOD for America, and ask for HIS blessing. And we are better off. And he, as a Christian, Mr O gives all credit to HIS Creator GOD that he believes in, and only gives HIM the glory and honor.
These are all facts – so – he is a simpleton? Since he believes in GOD, reads his BIBLE, and prays –
That would make you a what? Smarter than him? Smarter than GOD?
Sounds like you need to rethink your position... May be you should start believing too.
Truth_Hurts is starting to sound like the idiot fred.
@Truth.. Simple people need simple explanations.. which is why you need god.. if not, you would have understood the economics well enough to understand why the stock market went up.. But you do not have that caliber.. so, Mr. O gave the simplistic explanation that you can fall for..
gee.. truth does hurt.. doesn't it!
Which idiot fred are you talking about?
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.